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The Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Theology and Practice of Reparation

I. Introduction

“Reparation” is a term which has been largely and unfortunately ignored in theological circles since the Second Vatican Council. It has been all too often relegated to the category of “pious devotions” by some activists who claim that it has been rightly replaced by the “option for the poor” and by no few religious communities which were originally founded with reparation as one of their fundamental ends. It is nonetheless, I am convinced, a topic which calls for the attention of Catholics who are serious about the spiritual life and apostolic activity. I also believe that it is of particular relevance to those involved in the pro-life movement in this era which seems more contemptuous of human life than any previous period in history.

No doubt this is precisely because our world has almost entirely lost “the sense of sin,” a prophetic declaration which was first sounded by Pius XII in a radio message delivered to a Catechetical Congress held in Boston on 26 October, 1946 (1) and echoed many times since by the present Pontiff. (2) Indeed, we will have no real sense of sin until we recognize what our sins did to Christ. As both the Roman Catechism and now also the Catechism of the Catholic Church put it: “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” (3) I would like to sketch here briefly a theological outline of reparation to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary with specific reference to the burning pro-life issues of our day.

Virtually every Pope since Pius XI has emphasized that our primary response to the love of God manifested in the Heart of Jesus is the twofold work of consecration and reparation. In his monumental encyclical devoted to this theme, Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI called the Church to embrace the practice of reparation.

Here is the way he put it:

Whereas the primary object of consecration is that the creature should repay the love of the Creator by loving him in return, yet from this another naturally follows—that is, to make amends for the insults offered to the Divine Love by oblivion and neglect, and by the sins and offenses of mankind. This duty is commonly called by the name of “reparation.” (4)

It seems to me that the topic of reparation to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary can motivate and deepen Catholics’ involvement in the pro-life movement in many ways. I will try to draw some of them out as I explore the meaning of reparation as it involves the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

II. Heart of Jesus—Propitiation for Our Sins

The first and most fundamental way in which reparation is understood theologically is as the atonement, expiation, propitiation or satisfaction which Christ has made for us to the Father in his redemptive sacrifice. Each of these words emphasizes with a slightly different accent the profound truth that once man fell into sin he was incapable of “making up” for the offense which he had caused to God and the disorder which he had introduced into the universe. (5) Only Jesus could repair the damage done by sin and make the reparation owed to God in justice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church neatly synthesizes this concept thus:

It is the love “to the end” (Jn. 13:1) that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now “the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor. 5:14). No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and to offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine Person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (6)

The fundamental reparation, then, is the reparation made to the Father by Christ on the Cross and renewed on our altars. This is a truth of faith which we all accept, but it is also a mystery so rich, so deep, that we will never exhaust it.

What is of particular interest to us is that this perfect act of reparation made by Christ for us is magnificently symbolized in his Heart. In fact, as is well known, one of the invocations of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is precisely “Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us!” In commenting on this invocation in his Angelus address of 17 August, 1986, Pope John Paul II underscored the appropriateness of the identification of Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice with his Heart:

The Passion and Death of Christ involved his whole body. They were effected through all the wounds which he received during the Passion. However they were above all accomplished in his Heart, because it agonized in the dying of his entire body. His Heart was consumed in the throbbing pain of all his wounds. In this despoliation the Heart burned with love; a living fire of love consumed the Heart of Jesus on the Cross.

This love of the Heart was the propitiating power for sins. It overcame and overcomes for all time all the evil contained in sin, all estrangement from God, all rebellion of the human free will, all improper use of created freedom which opposes God and his holiness. (7)

Even in his risen glory Jesus’ Heart continues to be the propitiation for our sins, as the Pope explained in an Angelus address of 10 September, 1989:

Jesus is the willing victim because he offered himself “freely to his passion” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II), the victim of expiation for the sins of mankind (cf. Lev. 1:5; Heb. 10:5-10), which he purged in the fire of his love.

Jesus is the eternal victim. Risen from the dead and glorified at the right hand of the Father, he preserves in his immortal body the marks of the wounds of his nailed hands and feet, of his pierced heart (cf. Jn. 20:27; Lk. 24:39-40) and presents them to the Father in his incessant prayer of intercession on our behalf (cf. Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34). (8)

The Heart of Jesus, then, is truly the Heart in which the Father is well pleased, the Heart which has taken the sins of the world upon itself and repaired the breach which man had created between himself and God.

It is Jesus’ reparative self-offering which provides the context of the prayer taught by the Angel to the children of Fatima:

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended . . . (9)

It is likewise the point of reference of the prayer in the Chaplet of Mercy of Saint Faustina Kowalska:

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. (10)

Long before the prayer recorded by Sister Lúcia was made public and before Blessed Faustina received hers, Pope Pius XI promulgated an Act of Reparation whose recitation he mandated for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus every year. (11) (Sadly, this has been almost universally forgotten). In it the Church prays:

We now offer, in reparation for these violations of your divine honor, the satisfaction you once made to your eternal Father on the cross and which you continue to renew daily on our altars. (12)

In the remarkable designs of God’s Providence another young religious, Mother Mary St. Cecilia of Rome, now more commonly known by her Baptismal name as Blessed Dina Bélanger, recorded these words which she perceived the Lord speaking to her in her sick room in the infirmary of a motherhouse in Québec just a few months after the promulgation of Miserentissimus Redemptor, of which she knew nothing:

Offer Me to My Father; offer the love and patience of My Eucharistic Heart. By the offering of My Heart, you can atone infinitely for all the outrages which My Father and I receive; you atone for the lack of love in consecrated souls. (13)

III. Heart of Jesus—Bruised for Our Offenses

The second way in which reparation is understood theologically—and this is probably what most of us spontaneously think of when we hear the word—is as the “consolation” which we offer to the Heart of Christ for what our sins have caused him to suffer for us. This is the motive for reparation found especially in the revelations of the Lord to St. Margaret Mary who tells us that he asks for the communion of reparation to his Sacred Heart on the First Friday of the month. (14) Pope Pius XI also deals with this concept in his Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor.

The first and obvious question that comes to mind is this: “Since Jesus is now in glory at the right hand of the Father, how can we offer him ‘consolation’?” Pius XI first cited a very apposite quotation from St. Augustine: “Give me one who loves, and he will understand what I say,” (15) and then gave the following reply:

If, in view of our future sins, foreseen by him, the soul of Jesus became sad unto death, there can be no doubt that by his prevision at the same time of our acts of reparation, he was in some way comforted when “there appeared to him an angel from Heaven” (Lk. 22:43) to console that Heart of his bowed down with sorrow and anguish. (16)

In other words, as Jesus saw the sins of the world in his agony in Gethsemane by virtue of the beatific vision, (17) so He also saw in advance every act of consolation offered to him until the end of time. The Pope also provided a second answer to the question in terms of the suffering of Christ in the members of his body:

To this it may be added that the expiatory passion of Christ is renewed and in a manner continued and fulfilled in His mystical body, which is the Church. For, to use once more the words of St. Augustine, “Christ suffered whatever it behoved Him to suffer; now nothing is wanting of the measure of the sufferings. Therefore the sufferings were fulfilled, but in the head; there were yet remaining the sufferings of Christ in His Body (In Psalm 86). This, indeed, Our Lord Jesus Himself vouchsafed to explain when, speaking to Saul . . . he said ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’ (Acts 9:5), clearly signifying that when persecutions are stirred up against the Church, the Divine Head of the Church is Himself attacked and troubled. Rightly, therefore, does Christ, still suffering in His mystical body, desire to have us partake of His expiation.” (18)

Indeed, it was in the light of this second explanation that John Paul II quoted the French thinker Blaise Pascal on 9 January, 1993 at a prayer vigil for peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina held in Assisi saying that Christ “is in agony even to the end of the world.” (19) It is an idea which has obviously gripped him because he repeated it in his Letter to Families of 2 February, 1994 (20) and on Tuesday of Holy Week of that year to a large gathering of university students. (21)